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Weaver Wednesday [122] - Discovery [5]: Red-billed Quelea

2014-10-15 (582)

gravit8 Weaver Wednesday (species text)

Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea

Red-billed Quelea
Red-billed Quelea type
from Brisson 1760
Michel Adanson
Michel Adanson,
collector of Red-billed Quelea,
from wikipedia
Red-billed Quelea
Red-billed Quelea,
from Edwards 1760
Red-billed Quelea map
Red-billed Quelea distribution,
type locality circled


Linnaeus 1758 described the quelea with a Latin text, but did not provide a reference. He noted that the species came from India, again an error based on ships from the East Indies picking up bird specimens along the African coast on their return to Europe. In his updated 12th edition of Systema Naturae (Linnaeus 1766), he presented the same plumage description in Latin but corrected the type locality to Africa, and listed Brisson as a reference.

Presumably Linnaeus had access to Brisson's 1760 draft in 1758. Mathurin Jacques Brisson, a French zoologist, wrote his book on birds in several volumes, each page having 2 columns (one in French and one in Latin). For the quelea, Brisson gave the names "Le Moineau à bec rouge du Sénégal" (French) and Passer senegalensis erythrorynchos (Latin). Brisson noted that the quelea originated from Senegal, from where it had been sent to RAF de Reaumur in France by Michel Adanson (the generic name of the Baobab, ie Adansonia, was named after Adanson). Brisson's book has a few engraved illustrations by François-Nicolas Martinet, including one of the quelea.

Edwards 1760 also illustrated the Red-billed Quelea (in colour) in the same year as Brisson. George Edwards called it the Brazilian Sparrow, not being sure if it came from Brazil or Angola. The painting by Edwards was based on a living male in the collection of Mrs Clayton in England, being a different individual to the type specimen.

Linnaeus described many or most of the birds in Edwards, but does not seem to have used the quelea in Edwards (at least not under Linnaeus' genera Loxia or Emberiza).

Scientific citation

Emberiza quelea Linnaeus 1758 Syst. Nat., ed. 10, p.177 "India". Senegal, ex Brisson (see Linnaeus, 1776, Syst. Nat., ed. 12, 1, p.310)

Meaning of names

The origin of the name 'quelea' is unclear and several authors have debated this without there being enough information to come to a definitive conclusion. No African origin of the name has been found despite extensive searches. Linnaeus probably derived quelea from the Medieval name for quail, ie 'qualia' and 'qualea'. The reason for this is also not clear, and the following possibilities have been suggested by different modern authors:
  • quelea and the quails of the Old Testament were both found in enormous flocks.
  • both quail and quelea have similar streaked upperparts and buzzing flight.
  • from quell or to quail meaning "to torment", referring to the destruction of crops by quelea.

Alternate names

Blackfaced Dioch, Cardinal, Common Dioch, Latham's Weaver-bird, Pink-billed Weaver, Quelea Finch, Quelea Weaver, Red-billed Dioch, Red-billed Weaver, Russ' Weaver, South African Dioch, Sudan Dioch, Uganda Dioch


Michel Adanson, a French naturalist who undertook a collecting expedition to Senegal.

Date collected

Between 1748-1754, the time that Adanson spent in Senegal.

Locality collected


Type specimens

No type specimens known to survive, but the painting of Brisson serves as a type.